THE MEANING OF LIFE AND DEATH
Personhood in itself is
'nothingness' devoid of normative substance.
The right to personhood
is a liberty right which
'condemns' people to freedom, 'a dreadful freedom' in the words of one
It confronts each person with the fundamental questions about
'er existence as an individual,
questions such as What is the meaning of life?, What sense can
make out of my existence?. Existentialists, the traditional
'philosophers of life', have often sketched a picture of human life as
'anguished and absurd, distressing and meaningless', of everyone's
own being as finite and even of the whole of reality as nothingness
because of everybody's anxiety about impending death: 'thrown
into the world a human being experiences forlornness and a sense
of abandonment'. This is the pessimist or nihilist side of
existentialism, and this is the side of formal personhood.
While the origin of every person may be nothingness,
achieves 'thingness' by choosing. It is by making decisions
that 'e can attain existence, that is, authentic existence. (It
has been said that a person thereby creates 'er own nature and
values.) Being 'trapped in existence' the world in which 'e
lives would be totally meaningless, if 'e had no criterions and
principles to order and evaluate what 'e experiences. To make
sense out of it, 'e must deal with existence, with the freedom
'im as a person. It is then that
'e realizes that 'e is not only free to choose 'er own world-view and way
of living, but that 'e must choose 'er own world-view and way of
Yet, as has been correctly argued, 'e can never be entirely sure that it is
the right choice, that it is the right decision 'e has taken, and that 'er
life will indeed become meaningful.
To find the meaning of 'er existence as a living being, a
sentient being or a human being, 'e needs knowledge, and yet the
only certainty that can be guaranteed is the certainty of
truths without content. Hence, also in this respect 'e has to
take risks, for 'e cannot remain in a state of nothingness or
emptiness forever; as a skeptic forever. The solution to a
person's existential problems has been said to lie in 'the
decision to believe, to have faith'. It should be added that a
person must have the courage of 'er convictions to boot.
As mere bodies people's (that is, their bodies') attitudes
and actions can in principle be explained and predicted on
purely behavioristic grounds. That they say such-and-such and do
so-and-so, is thus construed a question of their upbringing,
their relatives or friends, the class they belong to, the region
or country where they live or used to live, the influence of
the mediums of communication, and so on and so forth. As
persons, however, people can choose regardless of their
upbringing, regardless of their relatives or friends, regardless
of the class they might belong to, regardless of the region or
country where they live, regardless of the influence of radio
and television, and so on and so forth; regardless, that is, of
what behaviorist science or, for that matter, public opinion
expect them to choose. In the 'nothingness' of mere personhood
all these physical and social constraints are absent. But if
people do not want to, if they cannot, remain in this state and
need to take decisions, this does not imply that they have to
'leap into absurdity' and adopt the untruths, prevarications
and inconsistences of fideism. The knights of irrational
or supernatural faith who embrace a belief 'in virtue of the
absurd' escape the darkness of nothingness not to become
enlightened but to become blinded by the infinite brightness of
The lives of people are made to appear meaningful, it has been claimed, in
a way they would otherwise not be by people's believing in the existence of
one or more gods.
It would not matter whether gods really exist, but what function the belief
in a god, or in gods, fulfils in the lives of those who hold it.
Altho the belief
itself may be nonsensical, accepting it, even if only as a myth, would be
useful on this theist view, for it is such a belief which would give life
Naturally, also this suggestion is preposterous.
Firstly, as has been replied before, the utility of the acceptance of the
belief depends upon people's not judging it as mythical.
Secondly, the myth is not useful but, on the contrary, harmful because of
exclusivist content and record.
And thirdly, the argument fallaciously presupposes the logical primacy
of the existence of one or more gods who tell people what they ought
to do and what they ought not to do. (Take the tale of a god who
commanded people not to murder, while at the same time commanding
a father to kill his only child in order to show his faithfulness).
A person who starts from the primacy of the normative
(instead of that of the authority of one or more gods) may
attach value to the ends 'e pursues. But 'e only 'creates' 'er
own values insofar as they are personal, doxastic ones. The
universal norms and values exist independently of the individual
and are there not to be created but to be recognized and
adhered to. Unlike cultural or subcultural norms and personal
values, they are the ones that meaningfully relate things,
events, actions, attitudes and ideas to one another and to a
The very moment that we chose
as an ultimate value, and the universal
norms of neutrality and
inclusivity as paradigmatic principles,
we gave life its meaning.
But, paradoxically, it is because of this meaning of life,
that is, one's own life, that death, one's own death, may have
acquired meaning too. When there are reasons in favor of one's
own life, these reasons must be based on the norms and value, or
values, which give life its meaning; but when there are reasons
against (the continuation of) one's own life, they must be based
on the very same norms and values. It is merely the factual and
modal conditions which differ then. Only if one's life has
meaning can one's death have meaning as well.
The most obvious
neutral-inclusive reasons for causing
or risking one's own death have been mentioned in our discussion of
the various aspects of euthanasia. They are in the first place
reasons for not choosing or risking death, and are related to
one's status both as a living and as a
As a living being one has to preserve oneself so long as one is
healthy or has a disease which can be cured, but if an
incurable illness eats into one's body like acid into metal, it is not
a body in equilibrium which is preserved; then it is only the destruction
of such a body which is preserved. As a happiness-catenal being one
has to fight one's own suffering and that of other happiness-catenals,
but if there is no end to one's suffering in sight, and if the
continuation of one's existence contributes more to deterioration
than to amelioration, this is not the minimization of suffering;
then this is only the perpetuation of such suffering. In
these instances one should, after prolonged deliberation, while
having considered the certainty or probability of the effects
and side-effects, cause or risk one's own death.
Also in cases in which one is not very ill or seriously
injured, it may be worthwhile to risk one's own death, if the
motive is the attainment of an objective which is commendable on the
Ananormative model. As regards
living beings this motive may
be to save other lives; as regards happiness-catenal beings it
may be work on a dangerous project or task which improves the
situation of many of them when completed. Such objectives have a
derivative value according to
the DNI. The objective may also be
the protection of the interests of the DNI itself, or of its
adherents, for example, when their fundamental
extrinsic rights are,
or otherwise would be, violated.
Should one's service to the objectives or interests of
the Ananorm lead
to one's death, this has, perhaps, no immediate impact on the
attainment of a neutral-inclusive society, of the ideal of
veridical truth or of a universal respect for persons, yet it is
a way of dying which stands out among all other ways of dying
because of its meaning. Being determined by
the Norm itself,
the meaning of such a death is the same as that of life. The path of
anafactive conduct which leads to death,
while pursuing neutral-inclusive ends or while serving the interests
of the Norm, does not lead to meaninglessness; on the contrary, it
preserves the very meaningfulness of the mortal life in death.
It is in this manner that 'to partake of Dao', the Way, the
ultimate principle, 'and so to be authentic, that is eternal,
immortal' is 'to grasp the imperishable in the perishable' or
the suprapersonal in the personal. This conclusion was already
drawn more than two thousand years earlier: "The person who attains
the ultimate, attains the everlasting. Tho 'er body may decay,
'e never perishes".
THE DAO OF NANHONORE
When people know how to show honor as honor,
they know how to show dishonor as dishonor.
When they are thus subject to being honored,
they are thus subject to being dishonored.
When they further distinguish 'high' and 'big' and 'in',
they further distinguish 'low' and 'small' and 'out'.
When they speak of "young" and "rich" and "mine",
they speak of "old" and "poor" and "thine".
And when there finally arises
the recognition of what is really wrong,
the recognition of what is really right.
the person who promotes
the cause of neutral-inclusivity
under the denomination of the Ananorm
accomplishes 'er task
without claiming exclusive credit for it,
and without receiving such credit for it.
It is precisely
because 'e does not claim exclusive credit for it, and
because 'e does not receive such credit for it,
that 'er accomplishment can wholly remain with 'im.
[This canon was inspired by a two to
two-and-a-half thousand years older one.]